Castanet is revisiting the top stories of an eventful 2022. For the Kelowna sports story of the year, we look at the Okanagan Sun's championship run.
It was a season the Okanagan Sun will not soon forget.
For just the third time in their 41 year history, the Sun hoisted a national championship.
And they did it on Prairie soil.
The Sun capped off its first ever 14-0 season with a thrilling 21-19 come-from-behind win over the Regina Thunder at Regina's Mosaic Stadium.
The stadium that would host the Grey Cup the following week was home to a celebration more than four decades in the making.
Prior to the 2022 Canadian Bowl, the Sun had made 10 trips to the Prairies in the dead of winter, and came home empty handed each time.
The Sun trailed 15-0 late in the second quarter and were having a hard time moving the ball against a tough Regina defence.
But with time melting off the clock before halftime Dominic Britton marched the club 75 yards in less than two minutes, capping it off with a gutsy five-yard touchdown pass to Colby Miletto on the final play of the half.
The touchdown sparked the team.
After conceding a safety to go down 17-7, running back Jevan Garwood scampered 52 yards to cut the deficit to three then, following a Dawson Puk interception, Britton hit Mike O'Shea from 24-yards out on third and three to give the Sun their first lead, one they would not relinquish despite some harrowing moments in the dying minutes of the game.
The defence stuffed the Thunder on a third and four with 44 seconds left to seal the perfect season.
For first year head coach Travis Miller, it was vindication for a long off season of recruiting and to ensure he had the right mix for a long playoff run.
Miller becomes just the second head coach to lead the Sun to a national championship, joining Lawrence Nagy who guided the team to the Canadian Bowl in 1988 and 2000.
It's now up to Miller and his staff to try and repeat with a team which will lose close to two dozen players to graduation or university.
The long road to repeating 2022 is already underway.
UPDATE: 2:50 p.m.
The drought is over - and it couldn't have ended on a bigger stage.
For the first time in its 42-year history, the Sun won a game on the prairies, hanging on for a thrilling 21-19 win over the Regina Thunder in the Canadian Bowl at frigid Mosaic Field in Regina.
The Sun trailed 15-0 at one point in the second quarter and 15-7 at the half before roaring back in the third quarter with two touchdowns to take a lead they would never relinquish.
But, the turning point in the game came late in the first half. Trailing 15-0 and have trouble moving the ball against a tough Thunder defence, quarterback Dominic Britton marched the team 75 yards in 10 plays in less than two minutes to get the Sun on the board.
The drive was punctuated by 15 and 20 yard connections with receiver Mike O'Shea and a pass interference call the put the ball on the Regina nine.
After a four yard completion, and with the clock showing zeros, Britton hooked up with Colby Miletto from five yards out to give the Sun some life.
They ride that momentum after the break.
After conceding a safety, offensive player of the game Jevan Garwood broke his biggest run of the day, sprinting up the gut for a 53 yard touchdown to cut the deficit to three.
The defence then took over. On Regina's next possession, facing second and nine, Dawson Puk came up with the biggest defensive play of the game, intercepting a Carter Shewchuk pass at the Regina 49.
He returned the ball to the 32, giving Britton a short field to work with.
Three plays later, on third-and-two, Britton hit O'Shea from 24 yards out. Liam Attwood's extra point put the Sun up 21-17 with just three minutes to go in the quarter.
They had a chance to increase the lead to a converted touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but a O'Shea was unable to handle the snap on a 34-yard field goal attempt to give the Thunder the ball back down by four.
The Sun defence, which surrendered two touchdowns in the second quarter came up big down the stretch, bending, but refusing to break.
They held the Thunder on third down deep inside their end on three times in the fourth quarter. They held on third and eight at their 13 while holding a four point lead then, after conceding a safety with 35 seconds left, held the Thunder on a third and four at their 44 with just seconds remaining and the Thunder trying to move into range for a game-winning field goal try.
Britton started slow, connecting on just two of his 10 passes in the opening quarter for 21 yards before settling in during the second quarter.
He was 12 of 15 for 97 yards during the second and third quarters.
Garwood carried the rock 21 times for 127 yards and the game-turning touchdown.
O'Shea was busy, catching five passes for 70 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He also had several big plays in the return game, earning special team player of the game honours.
Puk was named the game's top defensive players.
Saturday's win was the third national title for the franchise, who won their first 32 years to the day on Nov. 12, 1988, a 50-0 shellacking of the Burlington Junior Tiger Cats.
Their last national championship was a 38-26 triumph over the Saskatoon Hilltops at the Apple Bowl in 2000.
UPDATE 1:50 p.m.
The Okanagan Sun have captured the third Canadian Bowl in franchise history.
Thirty four years to the day after winning their first title in 1988, the Sun went into Regina and beat the Thunder 21-19.
The Sun defence, which bent but didn't break all day, stuffed the Thunder on third and four at their 44 with seconds left to preserve the two point victory.
More details soon.
UPDATE: 1:10 p.m.
The Okanagan Sun have stormed back from a 15-0 deficit to take a 21-17 lead over the Regina Thunder after three quarters at the Canadian Bowl in Regina.
The Sun conceded a safety early in the third quarter to fall behind 17-7 before the offence came alive.
Jevan Garwood scampered 52 yards straight up the middle to cut the deficit to 17-14.
After a Dawson Puk interception on the next Regina possession, Dominic Britton hit Mike O'Shea from 24 yards out on third and two to give the Sun their first lead of the game.
UPDATE: 12:30 p.m.
The Regina Thunder hold a 15-7 lead over the Okanagan Sun at halftime of the Canadian Bowl in Regina.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Thunder drew first blood on their first drive of the second quarter.
Regina capped a 69 yard drive with a two yard run from Ryland Leichert.
The Thunder got the ball back deep in Sun territory moments later when a third down snap skipped in front of punter Isaac Wegner. He fell on the ball at the Sun 21.
Five plays and a pass interference call later, Thunder quarterback Carter Shewchuk scampered six yard to put the hosts up 14-0.
The Sun were unable to move the ball until their final drive.
Starting at their 35 after a Thunder single with less than two minutes to go in the half, quarterback Dominic Britton marched the team 70 yards in 10 plays to get on the board.
Britton connected with receiver Mike O'Shea on 15- and 20-yard passes, then capped it off with a five-yard toss to Colby Miletto on the final play of the half.
The Thunder will receive the kickoff to open the second half.
The Okanagan Sun and Regina Thunder are scoreless after one quarter of the Canadian Bowl in Regina.
Both teams have tried to run the football with some success.
Sun running back Jevan Garwood has 40 yards on the round in the opening half.
The Sun were able to move the football into Thunder territory, but stalled at the 30 and were forced to punt.
Quarterback Dom Britton completed just two of 10 passes.
The Okanagan Sun hope to turn the clock back to their dominant glory days of the late 1980s and 90s.
The Sun will try and replicate the success of teams in 1988 and 2000 when they captured the only national title in franchise history.
The 2022 team looks to be as dominate as those teams, balanced on offence, defence and special teams.
In their way, the equally dominant Regina Thunder, who rolled through the Prairie Conference, winning all eight regular season games and two more in the playoffs to earn the right to host today's Canadian Bowl against a Sun team unbeaten in 13 straight, including the national semi-final two weeks ago in Windsor, Ont.
"We have had a lot of time to dial into what they are doing," Sun head coach Travis Miller said of today's opponent during a cold weather practice earlier this week.
"We watched all 10 games and had the opportunity to see what their tendencies are.
"Obviously, we're going to make adjustments to that, but we are more going to focus on ourselves. We've polished who we are and what we do, and make sure we are as prepared as possible."
That means a lot of film work and a lot of field work.
On film, Miller says the Thunder look to be the best team they have faced all season, a strong offence and defence, stout front fours and a steady offence.
"I don't think we've played against a defensive line outside of our own that's as strong as what they have. Their front seven is quite good."
"It's been a long time coming for us," added veteran safety Garrett Cape.
"We've been working at this a couple of years now. Lots of the guys are about near the end of their career here, so it's nice to finally make it to the point we want to be."
Everyone is focused on the task at hand, said receiver Noah Bymak.
Oh, and it is going to be cold in Regina. The latest forecast calls for temperatures of -15C with a wind chill of -24C at game time.
Kickoff is at 11 a.m. Pacific Time Saturday.
The Okanagan Sun are putting two perfect records on the line when they face the Regina Thunder in Saturday's Canadian Bowl at Mosaic Field in Regina.
The goal is to continue one and, in doing so, break the other.
The Sun go into Saturday's Canadian Junior Football League title game a perfect 13-0 on the season.
They also head to Regina winless in 10 previous trips to the prairies dating back to a heartbreaking 29-28 loss in Edmonton to the Wildcats in the 1983 national semi-final.
Over the previous 41-year history of the franchise, the Sun are 0-6 in national semi-final games on the prairies and 0-4 in national finals, the most recent a 38-24 setback in Saskatoon in 2015.
So, what's the secret sauce.
"As a prairie boy born and raised, I can tell you unequivocally, it's the weather," said Sun head coach Travis Miller during Wednesday's final practice before the team flew out to Regina Thursday morning.
"I think it adds a drastic advantage to those teams that practice in it and live it every single day.
"Teams from the west coast don't tend to live in the cold. Luckily for us, the last two weeks have been cold so we've had the opportunity to get outside and get some practices in and get ourselves acclimated."
The Sun left a day earlier so they can get in two full days of practice in Regina where temperatures are in the high minus teens with a windchill of about -24C.
There is expected to be a mix of sun and cloud by game time Saturday with temperatures of about -11C with a windchill of -19C.
"It's going to be cold for sure," said first-year receiver Noah Bymak who led the Sun in receptions (33), yards (616) and touchdowns (9) over the course of the regular season.
"Some guys here may not be used to it but I'm actually from Saskatchewan, and we've had a couple of practices to acclimate ourselves.
The cold, says Bymak means a lot of smash mouth football in the trenches, and not as much throwing.
Oh, and they're big boys too.
"There's a first for everything," said third year safety Garrett Cape referring to the clubs historic prairie record.
"We've just got to play our brand of football and make sure that we don't go to their level. We know we can stop the run, understand our offence can still do what they need to do."
Kickoff Saturday is 11 a.m. Pacific time.
Five members of the Sun were named second team All-Canadians.
Cape, receiver Mike O'Shea, running back Jevan Garwood, defensive lineman Romareo Reid and linebacker Peyton Ryder were all honoured by the CJFL.
UPDATE 10:15 a.m.
The Okanagan Sun watch party at Dakotas Sports Bar and Grill is sold out.
Looking for a place to watch Saturday's CJFL Canadian Bowl championship game?
A watch party is being organized for Okanagan Sun fans unable to make the trip to Regina for the game.
The party is scheduled for the Legends room at Dakotas Sports Bar and Grill on Harvey Avenue.
Festivities get underway at 10:30 a.m. Saturday with kickoff between the Sun and Regina Thunder scheduled for 11.
There is no admission charge.
Those wishing to attend should email [email protected] and indicate the number of attendees in their group.
The Okanagan Sun took a moment to sit back and recognize their individual accomplishments over a perfect BC Football Conference season.
The team gathered Tuesday night at the Kelowna Yacht Club for its annual awards dinner.
In all, 17 players shared in the 16 awards handed out.
The Sun paid tribute to both sides of the ball in naming quarterback Dominic Britton and defensive end Romereo Reid co-MVP's.
Britton was the engine that drove the Sun attack in 2022, completing nearly 60 per cent of his passes for 2,086 yards, 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
He also ran for 207 yards and four touchdowns.
Reid helped anchor a defensive front that harassed opposing quarterbacks all season long.
He registered 12.5 of the teams 45 sacks over the course of the regular season. He also picked up 16 tackles and one fumble recovery.
Mike O'Shea was named the teams top special teams players after another stellar season in which he returned kicks for 1,000 yards and three touchdowns.
O'Shea also found the end zone eight times on offence, catching 28 balls for 483 yards.
Jevan Garwood was named the team's top offensive back, amassing 920 yards on the ground and another 140 through the air with 10 total touchdowns.
Veteran Garrett Cape was named the top defensive back with a pair of interceptions, returning one fumble for a touchdown and recording 30 tackles.
The entire award list includes:
- Liam Attwood - Scoring leader
- Colby Miletto - High school player of the year
- Jeff VanderWerff - Top offensive lineman
- Kelon Thomas - Top defensive lineman
- Mike O'Shea - Top special teams player
- Aiden Hennessey - Most improved
- Jevan Garwood - Top offensive back
- Garrett Cape - Top defrensive back
- Peyton Ryder - Top linebacker
- Keegan Hynes - Most sportsmanlike
- Noah Bymak - Top receiver
- Kelon Thomas - Commitment to excellence
- Dawson Puk - Most inspirational
- Aiden Wiberg - Rookie of the year
- Liam Johnstone - Community service
- Dom Britton/Romereo Reid - MVP
The Sun now get back to work in preparation for their Canadian Bowl matchup with the Regina Thunder.
The national championship game will be played at Regina's Mosaic Stadium Saturday, Nov. 12.
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